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This BYU grad could be special master in Mar-a-Lago search case

Retired Judge Thomas Griffith among DOJ picks to conduct independent review of seized documents

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Former Judge Thomas B. Griffith at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Former Judge Thomas B. Griffith at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2022.

Cheryl Diaz Meyer, for the Deseret News

A Brigham Young University graduate and former general counsel at the Provo-based school could find himself in the middle of the legal wrangling between the FBI and former President Donald Trump.

Thomas Griffith, a retired federal appeals court judge in the District of Columbia who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, is one of the two people the Justice Department recommended as an independent arbiter in the case.

Griffith told the Deseret News he is not commenting on his possible appointment as a special master to review documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, granting a request from the Trump team, said last week that she would appoint a neutral arbiter to go through the records and weed out any that may be covered by executive privilege or attorney-client privilege, according to The Associated Press.

The Justice Department’s other recommendation is Barbara Jones, a retired judge in Manhattan who has served as special master in prior high-profile investigations.

On Monday, the DOJ said it was willing to accept one of Trump’s picks for the position.

Government lawyers said in a filing Monday night that, in addition to the two retired judges, they would also be satisfied with one of the Trump team selections — Raymond Dearie, the former chief judge of the federal court in the Eastern District of New York, the AP reported.

It was not immediately clear whether Cannon would name Dearie or someone else, according to the AP. The Trump team said earlier Monday that it opposed both Justice Department selections.

Griffith, 68, received an undergraduate degree at BYU before attending law school at the University of Virginia. He later worked as general counsel at BYU. He retired from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2020 after 15 years on the bench. He is now in private practice in Washington, D.C.

Griffith recently served on the bipartisan Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court, which examined the merits and legality of court reform.

A conservative Republican, Griffith introduced Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson at her Senate confirmation hearing in March. Griffith described Jackson as an independent jurist who adjudicates based on the facts and the law, and not as a partisan.

In the Trump case, both sides have proposed different names of candidates who could serve as special master, though they disagreed on the scope of the person’s duties, according to the AP.

On Monday, the Trump team told the judge it was objecting to Griffith and Jones but was not prepared to say why publicly at the moment.